It must have been a week or two into my time at the MTC. We had finally reached that lovely chapter of MTC curriculum that everyone dreads. The law of chastity.
As with each topic we covered, the lesson had a three-part structure. First, our instructor would teach the principles and policies associated with the doctrine we were learning and we would discuss it as a class. Then, our instructor would demonstrate to us how to teach the principle. Finally, we would separate into groups and practice our blossoming teaching skills. I am pretty sure that I felt really uncomfortable the first time that I practice-taught the law of chastity, but this post is not about my first clumsy attempts at teaching the missionary lessons.
Instead, I want to tell the story of a really amazing moment from our class discussion that I have never forgotten in the three and a half years since. We were talking about homosexuality, of course, so I naturally kept quiet (which was probably a surprise to my classmates—I always had something to say and didn’t hesitate to say it in other circumstances). I don’t recall exactly how the discussion went. Preach My Gospel’s section on chastity is very brief—just two short paragraphs. Only one short sentence makes any direct reference to homosexuality. Because we as Mormons don’t do well with simple, short answers, the other missionaries in my class had all sorts of questions about what constituted “homosexual or lesbian relations” and what was and wasn’t okay for a gay investigator who wanted to get baptized.
The details of these questions have blurred in my memory, but I remember a subtle feeling of discomfort that sneaked into the pit of my stomach while my classmates fired question after question to our teacher. That all-too-familiar fear of being found out kept my mouth shut and my shoulders hunched for this part of the discussion. But I slowly sat up straighter and straighter as I listened to the answers that my rock-star MTC teacher offered. Again, I don’t remember quite what he said, but he was wise enough to stick to what was expressly taught in Preach My Gospel and was very careful to avoid any language that suggested that being gay was a sin. The gist of what he taught was that there was no double standard*. What was appropriate for an unmarried straight person was also appropriate for an unmarried gay person. Sexual misconduct or promiscuity was not any more sinful for a gay person than for a straight person. Straight people were not inherently less sinful than gay people. He gave the best answer that an MTC instructor could give. I felt so much more comfortable and at peace with the situation.
But I wasn’t the only one affected by his response to my classmates’ questions. There was one elder in particular, a beautiful Brazilian-American with a perfect smile and flawless features, who just got it. It was like his spiritual eyes could suddenly see clearly. His face visibly lit up and he enthusiastically raised his hand to tell the class about his flash of inspiration. He told us how he hadn’t ever thought about the issue of homosexuality this way and how cool it was for him to realize that sexual sin wasn’t any more sinful for gay people than for straight people and that gay people and straight people were equally loved and valued in God’s eyes. Because of this little a-ha moment (which maybe wasn’t so little), he had a more complete understanding of God’s infinite mercy and perfect love for his children. Because of this elder’s a-ha moment, I was a little bit more okay with myself. I, too, had a more complete understanding of God’s love, because I felt his love more strongly after this beautiful moment of enlightenment.
Now, I don’t know how this missionary currently feels about LGBTQ Mormons. More than three years have gone by, and though we have stayed in touch, we have never since talked about the law of chastity or homosexuality. I mean it’s not exactly a topic of everyday conversation, is it? I don’t know how my MTC instructor feels about this either. If either of them comes across this blog, I would love to know where he stands and if he considers himself an ally.
What I do know is that I witnessed a small miracle. The Spirit touched a heart and changed one elder’s attitude. As a result, he developed a greater ability to love his neighbor and I felt God’s love (and his love) more fully. This is the joy of missionary work: seeing the Spirit change a heart and bring light into a life. This was one of those precious moments that made it all worth it for me.
I can’t say that every missionary I talked to about homosexuality became an unexpected ally like my friends in the MTC, but there are allies and allies-to-be in your mission, in your child’s mission, in every mission. If you look with love and speak with the Spirit, you will find them.
*There is, of course, a double-standard when it comes to marriage and long-term relationships, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this blog.